October 26, 2010
When President Benigno Aquino III speaks at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam on October 28-30, he is expected to talk tough on human rights, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Among others, Aquino is expected to call for the unconditional release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.
Aquino however will be hounded by the case of political prisoners in his own country. The Philippine president leaves for Vietnam on Tuesday.
“When President Aquino takes the stage in Hanoi and talks about human rights and political prisoners, the world will also be asking about the political prisoners in his own country. When he talks about freeing Aung San Suu Kyi people will ask why he hasn’t acted to release the Morong 43,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“Mr. Aquino can show the way to other ASEAN members by releasing political prisoners in his own country. The case of the Morong 43 has garnered international attention from various rights groups. Now would be a good time for Mr. Aquino to back up his pronouncements on human rights with concrete action,” Reyes added.
The Philippine Department of Justice has submitted its review and recommendations on the case of the 43 health workers arrested last February 6. The review has the effect of a reinvestigation of the case and now awaits the approval of the President.
“It would be a supreme irony if Aquino speaks on human rights and Aung San Suu Kyi while some 300 political prisoners including the Morong 43 languish in Philippine jails. It would also be strange for the Philippines to want to host the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights when there remains rampant rights violations in the country,” Reyes said.
“We would want to see the 43 reunited with their families this Christmas. There is already sufficient legal basis to withdraw the charges against the 43 so that the courts can order their immediate release,” he added.
Reyes said that under the previous Arroyo government, trumped-up charges were filed against many activists. The infamous Inter-Agency Legal Action Group orchestrated the filing of cases. The government body has since been disbanded after coming under heavy criticism from United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his report on the Philippines.